The more project briefing meetings you have, the better you get at taking a brief. That said, it’s easy to get lazy with briefings once you think you have the process nailed.
Whether you’re just starting out, or you suspect you might be asleep at the wheel, these tips should help you make your next brief better.
1. Get information in advance
Some clients like to treat the brief like a big surprise party. “Come in,” they say excitedly. “We’ve got a project we want to brief you on!”
Don’t leave it at that. The more information you have to review before the brief, the more thorough you can be in your questions about it, and the less time it’ll take you to get up to speed.
So ask the client for information—a written brief document, wireframes or mockups—whatever they have that you could review so you’re armed and ready when you get to the brief.
2. Start with standard questions
Few experienced freelancers don’t have a set of standard questions that they use as a basis for briefings. If you don’t have a list like this, develop one.
These questions can guide the briefing conversation, give you starting points for ad hoc, project-specific lines of questioning, and ensure you don’t miss any of the critical information you’ll need to put together a pitch or estimate.
3. Don’t go it alone
In my experience, one-on-one briefings are rarely as successful as briefs that involve multiple parties from the client side. If you work with a team, consider taking the most appropriate colleague from your side, too.
In any case, a briefing that involves more than two people will usually be more thorough. Often, the brief that’s presented will be held to more stringent account, particularly if you have multiple client reps involved. How many times have you been in a briefing where your client contacts start discussing—or disagreeing over—some finer point of the brief?
If you encourage it, the brief can be a constructive process of refinement. This, in turn, can reduce the chances you’ll get off-track as you begin work.
4. Always ask why
As I just alluded, a brief isn’t just about diligently taking notes and nodding your head. By using the magic word—”Why?”—you can unearth all kinds of hidden motivations and undercurrents of perception that can help you to:
- understand where the client sees the project’s value
- get insight into what they really want the project to deliver—and why
- get a clear picture of the client’s understanding of what you can and can’t do
- clarify why the client has certain expectations.
This information can be invaluable in helping you to provide the best solution, value-add, up-sell, and exceed the clients’ expectations.
If you think continually asking why could get annoying, try phrasing it differently: “Can you explain the thinking behind that?” for example, or “What are the motivations for that decision?”
5. Get it approved
The point of taking a brief is to ensure that you’re all on the same page about the project. So even if you’re not using the information as a basis for an estimate—perhaps you’re on a retainer with this client, and they’re just giving you a standard work request—make a point of regurgitating the brief information and getting it approved by them.
If you don’t do this, you’re making an assumption that your interpretation of their requests is correct. You also risk having them change their minds down the track, or finding yourself in the unenviable position of having the client announce that the work you’ve delivered isn’t what they want.
Presenting the brief information in some format for signoff before you start work is a good way to make sure there are as few grey areas as possible for disagreement later on.
Depending on your specialty, as part of this approval process, you might consider tying in a little prototype or sample so you and the client both agree on the kind of output that’s expected. I’m a big fan of this approach—it doesn’t take me long, it’s chargeable work, and it can save a lot of headaches down the track.
This is the basic checklist I use to make sure each brief I take is as accurate and clearly communicated as possible. What advice can you add from your experience? Share your advice with us in the comments.
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